Sunday Tea Times (with Nat Baldwin, Songs for Walter, and New Hips at Islington Mill)

Around this time last week, instead of my usual routine of ironing work clothes while watching Antiques Roadshow and Countryfile, I went to Islington Mill in Salford for a Sunday tea time show. They had a band I really liked on the bill (Songs for Walter) so I headed over with my American friend Nija.

Tea time, in case you aren’t sure, is about 4.30pm onwards. It’s a time when it’s just about acceptable to eat your evening meal. More venues should have events on at this time on a Sunday as it gives you time to ‘get a bit of culture’ and also time to get home at a reasonable hour and feel super fresh for the next day back at work.

Nat Baldwin

Nat the solo double basser

Headlining the tea time show was Nat Baldwin, who is one of those rare breeds, a solo double bassist. (The phrase solo double bassist may, or may not, be a euphemism). You know your parents love you if they let you choose to learn the double bass as a child. It is such an unwieldy instrument to carry around and I wonder if Nat brought his own over from the States.

I’ve never seen a solo double basser before and they have to work really hard to play and sing the songs, the right hand sawing away while the left is wibbling up and down the neck. While setting up, we can see Nat swigging from a can of red bull which seems a bit incongruous for such a grand instrument, a bit like drinking champagne from a paper cup. However, with his slight scruffy demeanour and his gleamingly lovely double bass, Nat is a bit incongruous too as your expectation of a double basser is that at the very least they will be wearing a suit.

After a couple of songs, Nat agrees that the red bull was a bad choice, saying that he is starting to get the shakes from all the crap that is in it. Because all Americans sound the same, I ask Nija if she knows where in the US he’s from by his accent; she doesn’t and describes his accent as ‘nondescript’. When Nat owns up to being from Maine, Nija rolls her eyes and says ‘figures’. Maine is apparently the most northerly state in the US, almost Canada, a rural backwater made up of forests and wooden cabins (this is the image I have in my mind anyway); so Nija’s eye rolling is a bit like Southerners referring to ‘the North’ with a snort. I’m tempted to push her off her stool for her snobbery but let it slide instead, just this once.

Nat’s charm grows as the set progresses, he clearly knows a bit about the UK; he calls football just that and not ‘soccer’, he asks after Ricky Hatton asking if Ricky’s OK these days. I’m not sure if he’s seen recent pictures of Ricky, who the last time I saw was a long way from his fighting weight. If he has, then Nat’s dedication of a song called ‘Weights’ to Ricky was delivered with the best deadpan I’d ever seen.

If you fancy listening to something probably a bit different to your normal music, I’d recommend giving Nat’s tunes a spin.

Before Nat, were Songs for Walter who have recently signed to Manchester label Red Deer Club. I’d seen them live last year at the Carefully Planned Festival, but it was just lead guitarist and singer Laurie then. Then, as now, I was impressed by the strength of the songs and Laurie’s no-nonsense approach to playing some perfect little two-to-three-minute pop songs. Now, fleshed out with the full four piece, the songs sound even better with excellent use of feedback and muted drums fitting nicely into the Sunday evening bill. There’s a video below of their ace song Meet Me At The Empire.

Last up here, but first up on the bill were another local band, New Hips. There’s four of them in the band but they play at least ten instruments between them with unusual time signatures and excellent musicianship.

This is really how Sunday tea times should be spent. Islington Mill is a great venue with all sorts going on, serving nice drinks (the coffee was good) and the sound in the venue is perhaps the best in town. More of the same please.

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